Last year gave us no universally agreed upon choice for official Song of the Summer, leaving society to crumble in the throes of chaos and disorder.
The answer ended with the collective shrug of, "Eh, I guess it was 'Can't Feel My Face.' Maybe 'Trap Queen,' depending on the day." Unlike the year before, we did not have Iggy Azelea to show us the way, as she so often does.
But that was last year! Who will claim the coveted SoS title in 2016? Thankfully, things are already off to a better start than they were this time last year, with a fierce three-way battle currently brewing at the top of the Billboard charts. We've got established superstars (Drake, Rihanna, Timberlake), a few upstarts (Desiigner, Chainsmokers), and even a novelty track or two.
As always, late entries are fair game. As we sadly can't predict the future, let's break down the songs that are currently vying for our valuable ear holes.
Calvin Harris & Rihanna — "This Is What You Came For"
Pro: There's a proven track record when Rihanna and Calvin join forces (a little ditty called "We Found Love"). Plus, Rihanna's vocals are getting more nimble and dexterous by the day, her delicate falsetto injecting a dose of restrained vulnerability into a genre that usually spits at it. The hiccuping chorus is a welcome left-field pivot.
Con: It might be too chill. Internet response upon its release was pretty tepid, with many fans complaining that it builds toward a climax that never really arrives.
SoS Likelihood (1-10): 6.5. Solid island house, but were it not for the benefit of the marquee names, there simply wouldn't be enough muscle behind it to compete with the summer's splashier EDM efforts. By no means a bomb, but not the inescapable behemoth people likely expected from these two.
Adele — "Send My Love (To Your New Lover)"
Pro: Adele + Max Martin + uptempo = fish in a barrel.
Con: It already has a distinct "I'm shopping at HomeGoods" feel.
SoS Likelihood: 7.5. This one's tricky. It will no doubt be as ubiquitous as anything you'll hear for the next three months (and beyond). At the same time, Adele and Song of the Summer don't feel like they belong in the same conversation. It's definitely your mom's pick.
DNCE — "Cake By The Ocean"
Pro: Finally seasonally appropriate, with a lite-funk bass line that's by all accounts a lot more fun than Maroon 5's similarly confectionery-themed faux-disco "Sugar." Appreciate the Naomi Campbell reference.
Con: Nick, not Joe, is the Jonas du jour this summer. Is anyone thinking about poor Kevin?
SoS Likelihood: 4. It's just been around too long. While it's no doubt going to find a spot on every pool party playlist this summer, it won't have the stamina to stake a flag in the SoS sands.
Drake — "One Dance"
Pro: Well, it's already a smash, for one thing. "One Dance" is sweltering, the type of sundown seduction that speaks to glistening bodies, condensation running down the sides of glasses, and stolen kisses from strangers. Drake's increasingly confident pop sensibilities have yet to fail him and he sounds appropriately seductive on that hip-grinding Afrobeat rhythm.
Con: Like all Drake songs, there's that unshakable sense of self-loathing at its core. As infectious as it is, it's not quite jubilant in the the way typical Songs of the Summer tend to be.
SoS Likelihood: 8.5. Drake's first No. 1 hit still isn't slowing down, but it almost feels anti-climatic coming so soon after the giant that was "Hotline Bling." Views had about 100 other songs on it — there's a good chance Drake gets trigger-happy and cuts his own song off at the knees. Or else this just stays on top.
Fifth Harmony — "Work From Home"
Pro: Everyone secretly misses girl groups! "Work From Home" is low-key catchy in a way that's not immediately apparent, managing to turn a supremely lazy song into something you've absent-mindedly listened to 5 times in a row. Camila's barely in control of that diva crescendo during the last 30 seconds and it's kind of a thrilling nail-biter. There's a reference to time sheets.
Con: Not even the first song this year with a chorus consisting of the word "work" repeated ad nauseum and hardly the best one either. Lots of secondhand embarrassment from the construction zone-themed video (Ciara did it better!) and the sinking feeling the label sat on this until all members turned 18.
SoS Likelihood: 7.5. For lack of better words, the girls have been putting in work on this one. Constant promotion has lead to their highest chart position yet, and there's something about that tinkling beat.
Zara Larsson & MNEK — "Never Forget You"
Pro: While one wishes Zara's international solo smash "Lush Life" would get a proper release stateside, this one's a bit more in tune with U.S. radio. It's well sung by both artists, manages to get a big drop moment without ditching the chorus completely, and that call-and-response bridge if pretty sublime.
Con: It bares more than a striking similarity to the Skrillex/Diplo/Bieber collaboration from last summer. The low profiles of both artists might keep it from reaching maximum potential.
SoS Likelihood: 6. It's trendy without feeling hollow. Even if it doesn't hit the Song of Summer sweet spot, this won't be the last time we hear from these two.
Justin Timberlake — "Can't Stop The Feeling"
Pro: By far the summer song with the widest demographic reach. JT's evolved into the consummate entertainer, and while this track's not carving any new ground for him, there's a good chance you're some type of ogre or ghoul if you're not tapping a toe or two. It's so easy imagining this soundtracking segments during the upcoming Olympic games that it's not even funny. It even ends with a singalong, for God's sake.
Con: Is it burning too fast? It's no easy task to debut at No. 1 (easier in the age of digital downloads, but still), but its tenure at the top lasted just one week before subsiding to some proven players. It's also for an animated movie about trolls, which definitely makes it feel more like a guilty pleasure than it should.
SoS Likelihood: 9. The safe bet, and for good reason too. Other serious contenders are a bit more niche — Timberlake's name recognition and the song's sunny vibe amount to a radio slam dunk.
Beyoncé — "Sorry"
Pro: Has already entered the cultural zeitgeist thanks to that "Becky with the good hair" line, and was rewarded with Lemonade's highest non-"Formation" chart position because of it. Despite a reference to suicide, it's easily the most "fun" song on the album, with a "middle fingers up" refrain that's going to play very well on the dance floor. By all accounts a fantastic song, but you knew that.
Con: Beyoncé's basically done jumping through hoops to appease radio. What a world where the biggest superstar on the planet is almost completely absent from Top 40 platforms. Without official singles, she doesn't even seem concerned that there's no video on YouTube to contribute to chart position (currently No. 40, peaked at No. 11).
SoS Likelihood: 4. Beyoncé runs the world but she's basically a non-entity on radio. Somehow possible for a song to achieve total cultural saturation without ever formally entering the contest. She'll be fine.
Zayn — "Like I Would"
Pro: The extremely logical follow-up single to "Pillowtalk" from the plodding and overly serious Mind of Mine in that it actually has a registering pulse. The video is the Tron sequel we never got. And he's a very pretty man.
Con: There has perhaps never been a pop star in history who looks more miserable being a pop star than Zayn Malik.
SoS Likelihood: 3.5. Zayn's very lucky his newly unveiled true musical identity just so happens to align with nearly every major trend currently happening in R&B.
Ariana Grande — "Into You"
Pro: Everyone's favorite donut-licking, demon-spotting ponytail queen set aside the film-noir saunter of the Dangerous Woman title track to release the absolute banger we all were waiting for. Ari pulled out all the stops: finger snaps, soaring synths, a propulsive bassline, and vocal acrobatics that only escalate the song's steadfast march to euphoria. Includes the line "A little less conversation, a little more touch my body."
Con: None, you monsters. It's pop perfection.
SoS Likelihood: 8. Theoretically should be just as big as "Problem" was in 2014 (plus, no Iggy this time!), but there are a few giants standing in the way.
Mike Posner — "I Took A Pill In Ibiza (SeeB Remix)"
Pro: Potentially the comeback story of the year. A meditative folk ballad about stepping away from the party scene got a snappy dance remix and the rest is history. Everyone loves a dance hit rife with dramatic irony, right?
Con: Like a few other entries on this list, it's already been around for a bit. Also, it's actually super depressing.
SoS Likelihood: 4.5. Posner found himself with an unexpected and weirdly beautiful sleeper hit. It's proven it's got legs, but there's not enough gas in the tank to pull off the victory lap.
Desiigner — "Panda"
Pro: Already a runaway train. Likely the weirdest song of the batch (those background vocal sputters!) with a beat so vicious it's impossible to dismiss as pure novelty. No one is immune to its charms — Beyoncé even danced to a portion of it during her stop on The Formation World Tour last week.
Con: Pretty much impossible to sing along to, outside of the "I got broads in Atlanta" line. Honestly, the less it makes sense, the better.
SoS Likelihood: 9. Love it or hate it, it's not going away anytime soon. Expect endless remixes, memes, and an prominent spot on every house party DJ set. Despite hitting No. 1 on the Billboard chart already, it somehow feels like it's still a few weeks away from achieving total saturation.
Meghan Trainor — "Me Too"
Pro: Um, she fell down while performing it once?
Con: Another exercise in vapid, delusional narcissism from Ms. Trainor masquerading as self-empowerment. This time the doo-wop backdrop gets traded for a Crazy Frog deep cut. Vile.
SoS Likelihood: 2. To quote her last single, "No."
Twenty One Pilots — "Ride"
Pro: It's been two whole years since Magic!'s "Rude" and you can never count out the public's insatiable bloodlust for white-boy reggae when the temperature starts to climb. It's the closest thing the summer has to a breakout "rock" song, by a generous stretch of the definition.
Con: Well, it's no UB40. Rap/Rock fusions are usually a lot more embarrassing than this, but that doesn't mean the stretched out and atonal "riiiiiiide" in the hook isn't going to sound awful coming from a car full of screaming teenagers.
SoS Likelihood: 5. They're fresh off a legitimate hit with "Stressed Out," and "Ride" certainly doesn't sound like anything else currently on the radio. That said, it's probably a bit too heavy in theme and a bit too tightly packed with zig-zagging genres to achieve carefree summer bop status.
Rihanna — "Needed Me"
Pro: Sexy and spiteful is the single best Rihanna combination. The hardest track on ANTI is a slow twerker's dream, and the Harmony Korine-directed video only ratcheted up the dramatic tension.
Con: Between Calvin Harris and Drake collaborations (plus the not-dead-yet "Work"), Rih Rih's stretched a little thin this summer. Truthfully, we're just biding our time until that much-promised Miguel remix of "Kiss it Better" surfaces.
SoS Likelihood: 5. No doubt the song knocks, but Rihanna's continued the extremely messy release of ANTI with an equally confusing, potentially cannibalizing singles rollout. Might be a bit too cavernous in sound to carelessly enjoy with a DQ Blizzard.
The Chainsmokers (feat. Daya) — Don't Let Me Down
Pro: Features a couple of riffs that sound straight off an xx album. It's suitably dramatic with one of those vaguely global-sounding instrumental breakdowns that are still all the rage.
Con: This blueprint is pretty expected. There's no shortage of songs that sound like this right now, and while the vocal is technically strong, it also feels pretty anonymous.
SoS Likelihood: 7. It's EDM with an alt-rock twist. Could be the season's sleeper but some of these ingredients are just too recycled.
Pitbull (Feat. Enrique Iglesias) — "Messin' Around"
Pro: It samples REO Speedwagon? That has to mean something to someone.
Con: Pitbull basically wrote his own Florida Georgia Line song. Someone will be falling off a boat to this.
SoS Likelihood: 3. I have to believe that people aren't this stupid.
Kent Jones — "Don't Mind"
Pro: Has breakout surprise written all over it. YouTube/Vine choreography challenge videos are already beginning the pop up on the internet, giving this one the all-important viral edge. Kids!
Con: Is this multi-lingual hook too political in an election year? That's just dumb enough to sound true.
SoS Likelihood: 7. This year's dark horse and the closest thing we have to duplicating "Watch Me (Whip/Nae Nae)."